Sanctuary, the review of the new Netflix series: Sumo as you’ve never seen it

One of the best, most original and unexpected streaming products of the season arrives from Japan, an intense sports show capable of moving between tradition and innovation in a brutal world in which to seek fortune and redemption.

Sanctuary, the review of the new Netflix series: Sumo as you've never seen it

Lo Look it is one of the essential elements of the so-called ritual sumo. Parallel to competitive sport, in fact, the Japanese national discipline has its roots in tradition and respect for it. Among the different rituals to follow, the shiko represents the foundations of Sumo in a gymnastic and cultural sense. The gesture is known: the sumo wrestler said rikishi (when professional) with legs apart and knees bent alternately lifts the lower limbs and then vigorously brings them back to the ground, so that the foot hits the ground, unleashing an imposing thud. A cardinal stretching exercise for the muscular structure of the legs and the positioning of the center of gravity for excellent balance, but at the same time also a spiritual movement to cast out demons and intimidating for the opponent, a bit like thenaturally.

Sanctuary Netflix 1

Sanctuary: a scene from the Netflix series

Doing shiko means respecting sumo and the tradition it expresses, essential for a sport that developed from Shinto roots and heralds a philosophy of struggle where “the ring” is sacred and the opponent deserves respect. Now imagine what could happen if an arrogant twenty-year-old punk decides to enter the world of professional sumo without respecting either the gymnastics of the exercises or the rituals of the discipline. Can’t you? Then you should take a look at Sanctuarythe amazing new original series Netflix made in Japan set right in the world of sumo, described and explored in a hitherto unpublished way.

In the Dohyo

Sanctuary 3 1280X720

Sactuary: a picture from the series

The protagonist of the story is Kyoshi (Wataru Ichinose), an outspoken and violent boy with a difficult life. After the bankruptcy of the family restaurant due to the poor management of the father, a weak and pulseless man, the mother took to libertinage around the neighborhood, leaving her son and ex-husband alone and full of debts. Kyoshi loves his father even if he can’t show it as he would like, despite hating his resignation while acknowledging the many sacrifices made to keep him. Having been a young promise of judo, the boy takes advantage of his strength and his anger to scrape together some money on the street, until theoyakata Ensho (a very good Pierre Taki) does not offer him to join his stable of sumo wrestlers, promising him an initial salary of around 1 million yen a month, more or less 7,000 euros.

Sanctuary Trailer Netflix

Sanctuary: a scene from the series

Dreaming of money, women and success, but also thinking of the opportunity to repay the many accumulated debts and give his father a better life, Kyoshi accepts Ensho’s offer, suddenly finding himself catapulted into a world much more ruthless, rigorous and brutal than imagined, made of hazing and rivalry and all too tied to an archaic conception of society, ferocious and patriarchal. Once in the Dohyo, the iconic sumo fighting area, Kyoshi is mocked and annihilated by his own companions, in any case unable to repress his more animalistic instincts and for this reason considered a real outsider of the sport but determined to climb every category until becoming yokozuna, the pinnacle of sumo. Enno’s storyline then intersects narrative windows with incidents such as that of the journalist Asuka Kunimisha (Shioli Kutsuna), forced against her will – at least initially – to deal with sports instead of politics, or Shimizu (Shota Sometani), a true fan of sumo who it will spur Kyoshi to pursue his goal.

The 89 best Netflix TV series to watch in April 2023


Sanctuary 1 1280X720

Sactuary: A scene photo from the Netflix series

Literally translated, sumo means pulling but also pushing. A perfect metaphor for the life of Kyoshi, who in the only good opportunity granted him is forced to submit to the vexatious authority of the wrestlers senpai without however renouncing his identity, to that fury that makes him unique, which scandalizes the official league but at the same time exalts and enhances his fighting style, the public and his master. Enno – this is his hear and, ring name – pushes and pulls without harmony, initially, as indelicate as the slaps received from life. He has to join the dots and “play the shiko” (the phrase will get into your head!) To climb the rankings, but he faces very powerful opponents and each with their own goals to conquer and a story behind them. Sanctury it is truly a complete sporting drama that narrates in 360 degrees and without sparing a distant and almost secret competitive universe for the West, for this reason fascinating and of great curiosity.

Without title

Sactuary: A promotional photo from the Netflix series

In an industry made up of teams, categories, classifications and ranks, the series developed by Eguchi Kan and Kanazawa Tomoki (Riding Uphill) looks at a serial structure inspired by Spartacus e Cobra Kai, where heterogeneous groups of athletes train and fight both outside and inside the “arena”, while facing the ghosts of their own existence, forging particular ties and creating sui generis rivalries and relationships. Let’s also combine perfectionism and the perennial search for the beauty of Japanese culture and the quality of oriental cinematography to imagine a product that one episode after another grows together with Enno, shiko after shiko, managing to excite and excite with virtuous caution, without haste and building a story made up of moments and situations sought in an appropriate mix of drama and comedy.


Sanctuary: a photo from the series

The speed of the clashes is equated to their intensity, and when you go down to the dohyo, fatigue and pain are felt, especially in the more advanced stages of the series. But together with them, strength and awareness also grow, while the world of sumo is outlined in all its unexpected beauty and astonishing complexity before our eyes. The basic problem is that Sanctuary perhaps takes too much for granted the knowledge of the structure, rules and terminology of the sport in question, confusing and displacing the neophytes who have to willingly accept the understanding of the discipline in progress, learning it with the continuation of the series. Then clash with the international scaffolding of the project, some poorly concealed purely Japanese narrative and cinematographic ambitions often in stylistic hyperbole with respect to the essence of the series.

Sumo Wrestling Ritual Sanctuary Japanese Netflix Sports Drama Everything We Know So Far

Sactuary: a moment from the series

Net of this, Sanctuary is a great and pleasant surprise, another mainstream and noteworthy product coming from the Rising Sun after Gannibal on Disney +, engaging and centered and dedicated to a context hitherto unexplored on the big or small screen. There is a risk that it could become your new spring obsession.


In conclusion, Sanctuary is a new and original sports drama that proves to be one of the most welcome surprises of the season. Strengthened by a fascinating, brutal and complex agonistic universe that has never been explored until now, and a typified narration based on the paraphrased model of Spartacus and Cobra Kai, the Japanese Netflix series manages to involve and captivate the viewer, dragging him directly into the dohyo and ready to excite him and unexpectedly thrill him.

Because we like it

  • You quickly become passionate about the world of sumo.
  • Kyoshi is an energetic and out of the ordinary protagonist.
  • Direction and narration help each other without engulfing each other, one at the service of the other.
  • He has crazy energy and development.

What’s wrong

  • It takes the discipline’s rules and nomenclature for granted.
  • Some cinematic subtleties that clash with the rest.

Leave a Comment